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The Power and Perils of Dialogue

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, the Director of the Religious Studies Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and a seasoned participant in interreligious dialogue, relates a telling incident that took place at an interfaith conference hosted by the Emir of Qatar in 2005. Rabbi Fuchs-Kreimer was one of four rabbis who had been invited to participate in panel discussions–a list that pointedly did not include any Israeli rabbis. The American rabbis debated whether they should participate when their Israeli colleagues were specifically disallowed and, in the end, chose to participate, taking every opportunity to reiterate both publicly and privately how much they hoped Israeli rabbis would be able to participate in the future. The following year, Israeli rabbis were invited to attend and participate in panel discussions.
Rabbi Fuchs-Kreimer’s point, and one that Rabbi Stern makes as well, is that the most important and meaningful dialogue doesn’t take place with people we agree with or even necessarily like. If we truly seek to make a change, to open up the possibility for transformation, then we must engage with those who don’t share our beliefs. (We can, of course, decide that there are people we wish for one reason or another to declare ‘beyond the pale’ and make a point of not engaging them. When we do this, we’re generally making a gesture for internal consumption–to gain points or bona fides with our own constituency–and not to create meaningful change.)
Rabbi Hirschfield’s caveats about maintaining one’s own integrity, of course, are well taken (you can’t possibly encounter the Other in dialogue if you can’t bring yourself as well). And speaking from personal experience, I know how painful it is to enter into genuine dialogue in good faith and find that others are unwilling to extend the same courtesy or are merely grandstanding. Besides, there’s always the risk that you’ll come to acknowledge the rightness of somebody else’s view. Yes, there are so many spiritual and intellectual pitfalls to engaging in dialogue, that if it didn’t contain so much power and potential, it might be far easier to skip it altogether.
Rabbi Rolando Matalon, another of the rabbis on that fateful trip to Qatar, acknowledged the difficulty of dialogue with people whose views are so antithetical to one’s own. “I would rather negotiate [about Israel] with the Swedes,” he remarked, “But they’re not the ones we have to deal with.”



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Laura Rojas

posted June 14, 2007 at 10:37 pm


While I am not Jewish, I am a bit confused by the Moslem/ Jewish strife that seems to assail every epoch in the history of the region. Simcha Jacobsen did mitochondrial DNA tests (the DNA passed though the matriarchs if each family) and found that better than 90% of the population in the Middle East, is no further removed than uncles and cousins, twice removed through history.
I understand totally the ecclesiastical isues at hand, but isn’t commonality of blood (blood being thicker than water – to turn phrase) more important? I also understand that many Moslems do not want Israel to endure, this confuses me, since in the very beginning Mohammed had a wonderful working relationship with the Jewish/ Hebrew people… in a symbiosis, so I am confused as to why it cannot be returned to that “Golden Time”, when moslem and Jew nealry came together as one.
Isn’t that preferable to having to live in fear and hatred of each other?



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David Cheater

posted June 15, 2007 at 11:19 am


It’s inaccurate to say that “the Muslim/Jewish strife that seems to assail every epoch in the history of the region.” There was considerable variation between parts of the Arab world: the area now known as Saudi Arabia was always horrendous, the Maghreb was usually good and Iraq varied considerably.
Most of the modern problems do not predate the rise of ethnic nationalism in the 19th century. And the persecution of Jews exists within the context of a general “ethnic purification” that expelled/ harrassed millions of indigenous Christians and non-Arab Muslims.
From my experience as an Arab Jew (Tunisian) I see leaders whipping up a fear of the stranger in our midst along with a widespread assumption that we are playing zero-sum games as to communal rights. I would much prefer to see a focus on the “Golden Rule” ethos and the halakha concerning the teaching of the Gerim.
By the way, since the Ger is always compared to the Israelite in Egypt it is a false analogy to limit the halakha to ‘converts’.



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Dave

posted June 15, 2007 at 11:57 am


Hamas fighters are tossing their Fatah fighter brothers off the top of 20 storey buildings.
Blood is thicker than water but when you hit the ground its not much of a cushion.



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Rick Abrams

posted June 16, 2007 at 1:27 pm


Dear Ms. Rojas,
From your last name, I assume that you are Hispanic. I do not know if you’re Mexican, but I wish to use a comparison which might help with your confusion. If a cholo murders your child, would you think “that’s OK — because the cholo is related by blood”?
I find the idea of Commonality of Blood to be morally reprehensible. I would stand with a non Jewish person who was morally honorable over a member of my own family if he/she were morally corrupt. If a member of my family were morally corrupt, I would try to rectify the situation by helping him/her and by ameliorating any harm he/she had done. BUt I certainly would not abrogate my own morality because of Commonality of Blood.
The Original Issue: Reconstructionist Rabbis Meeting with Arabs.
I distinguish between politicians an rabbis. Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria was a huge political blunder compounded by her miscommunicated message from Irsael. I think that her speaking with Syria was one more step in the wrong direction and we now have another Syria sponsored political murder in Lebanon and the Hamas take over of Gaza. When political recognition by openly speaking with someone like Syria and Iran will be perceived as weakness and when it will encourage moral murders, speaking with such people is foolish. When speaking with such people is done for personal political gain at home as Nancy Pelosi did, then speaking with such people becomes immoral.
Rabbis are not politicians who represent a country, and thus, their speaking with people who want to murder us does not carry the same consequences. All people have some members who are violent psychopathic murders, e.g. Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, but that does not mean that rabbis should not speak with any Muslim leaders because other Muslims are terrorists. Let’s face it, Islam is going through a horrible time — similar to the Inquistion or Nazism — and the moderate thinkers in Isalm should not be boycotted by rabbis.



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Laura Rojas

posted June 16, 2007 at 6:38 pm


Actually Mr. Abrams, I married my last name, but that aside I understand your argument, and I apologize for any consternation I caused. Yet in the “commonality of blood” I would liken it to the divisions between , for instance, Guatemalans and Mexicans. They have exactly the same lineage, and yet would not hesitate to muder the other in the name of “cultural… whatever”. As far a cholo murdering a member of my family, I can hate the act, but not necessarily the actor. Would I want a “vendetta war” to start over it? Certainly not. I think too, like with the illegal immigration argument (no I won’t change subjects) as you pointed out, I have a Hispanic last name, when people hear my last name I have insults hurled at me. When I am the boards people automatically assume I am illegal.
Moslems have gotten the same short-stick, especially after 9/11. Not all Moslems are extremists, anymore than all Jews are Hassidim. No one in this world can make generalizations about anything, we have to listen. Should the Gaza have been surrendered? With the new development in the Gaza Strip, I’m sure people are scratching their heads, about what to do next. We also have to ask, do Moslems/ Palestinians/ Iranians/ Syrians really want peace – or are they just so war-hardened, they can’t think any other way?
I don’t know what the answer is… people are very quick to point fingers and condemn, we need to hold a finger to Heaven and ask G-d, what He thinks we should do… maybe then some thing positive will occur.



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Dave

posted June 16, 2007 at 9:03 pm


Love the comment: ‘Not all Mulims are extremists anymore than all Jews are Hasidim’.
Got that Ph.D thesis at HUC finished yet?



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Laura Rojas

posted June 17, 2007 at 12:28 am


So Dave would you like to share why you are being contentious, or do you not have an opinion? I’m trying to understand why people, Jew/ Arab, and even those in our country think it’s easier to fight each other, rather than see similarities and use that as a spring-board to peace, to tranquility, and something that might be more productive than raising death-rates around the world, and seeding violence within the next generation.
You are correct that blood is not much of a cushion when you are being thrown off a 20 story building, but there is something deeper. Has violence become the norm? Why?
C’mon Dave, help me out here!



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Chana

posted June 17, 2007 at 10:08 am


Well – me thinks: We Jews cannot even dialog with each other and remain loving and at peace. Until we can love and accept each other’s differences with tolerance how do we suppose we can do that with other religious groups?
It seems our ego’s get in the way.
But there is always hope – maybe dialog will produce some understanding.
Mutual understanding. We all want – we all need – the same things in life.
What different standards? “Standards” is a poor word I think. But I do not know a better one. Just different ways of getting what we want – what we need – how we approach the most basic need of all – to know G-d, to grow spiritually, to become what we perceive to be “better”, within our own religious culture, and that may or may not include tolerance.
Then there are the groups to whom dialog means “I am going to change your mind and make you think like me”. Hidden or not so hidden agendas.
It can be very complex.
Those who want to dialog, do so, and share what you learn.
Those who do not – pray for those who do.
Those who choose to dialog should have a certain level of maturity and humility and above all know themselves and what they believe, approaching all different people with loving-kindness. If we get “duped” we get “duped”. We can only rest in the knowledge we did our part the best we could.



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Chana

posted June 17, 2007 at 10:18 am


So I can’t spell – dialog or dialogue -it still works and I get to laugh at myself. : ) Shalom all who read my posts. May you be blessed, may you have happiness, peace, health and a good life!



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Rick Abrams

posted June 17, 2007 at 12:50 pm


Dear Ms. Rojas,
Your reply states the matter in terms which make more sense to me. I believe the short hand form of your question is Rodney King’s question, “Why can’t we all just get along?”
From a Jewish perspective, this problem is NOT where we ask for Heaven’s involvement. This problem is a man to man problem, and during the High Holidays we have to ask other men for forgiveness for wrongs which we have committed against them. G-d cannot forgive transgressions against other men. Our relationships with other men are direct and are not based upon our relationship with G-d. Thus, in this area we Jews cannot delegate the problem to G-d.
I do not agree that no one can make generalizations about anything. Of course we can. Hamas and Hizbollah are more violent than Quakers. What we wish to avoid is solely judging an individual on generalities without paying attention to his/her particular attributes. There may be a few non-violent memeber of Hamas (Schindler belonged to the Nazi Party) and there may be a Quaker mass murderer somewhere. Generalizations, however, are often valid. Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel and Hamas does not care how many Arabs it has to murder to achieve that goal.
The present situation in Gaza does not surprise me. As Abba Ebban said, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Naturally, when they had a chance to run Gaza all my themselves, they voted for Hamas. I am certain Sharon anticipated this situation in Gaza as a likely outcome of the 2005 withdrawal. Sharon’s miscalculation was his stroke and Olmert and his cohorts being in power.
If you wish to understand the type thinking which infects many Arab minds, I suggest you read almost anything by Ralph Peters. For a quick course on what Israelis want, read the Americn Declaration of Independence.



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Laura Rojas

posted June 17, 2007 at 11:50 pm


Mr. Abrams:
I’m curious, why can’t we aske for the intercession of G-d in dealing with those who wish to harm us? The first thing out of most mouths when people are in danger is; “G-d help me!” if we can rely upon Him in peril, why aren’t we supposed to rely upon Him in our everyday dealings.
I had posted a comment, I guess somewhere else… is the whole argument over (not to trivialize)real estate, birthrights, or ideology? Or perhaps a mix of all three? Yes i understand that the Paletinians seem to “like” being at war, as Ismael’s offspring were destined to be warriors. Isaac was Sarai’s son, but both were granted a birthright by Abram, and both were blessed by the Creator, regardless to the fact that Sarai sent Hagar packing.
There was a song once with a long title; “There will never be any peace” (until G-d is seated at the conference table). even if there is only this ONE commonality, and that the Creator made this world for all of us, regardless of our beliefs – it is a place to start.
I have friends who are Moslem and I know their families, some are more extreme than others. When we lived a abroad, in unstable countries at times, I would hear the haranguing of the imams, and some of the nonsense that would spout from their mouths. But I was a child, I wore the same school uniform, had the same poufy bows at the ends of braids, learned the same language as the other students, and was subscribed to the same discipline as the other children. Yet I knew no fear. Whether my parents managed to insulate, I cannot say, I ran throught the streets the same as other children, met their parents, and was patted on the head and given sweets like any other child. The haranguing was never directed at me, nor my parents. We were there trying to bring a solution to fruition, not cause more problems. I still hear the haranguing, and sadly these people spouting this stuff, really truly believe it… and I wonder, doesn’t common sense ever enter into their mind? Are they, perhaps so war/ hate hardened that there is no longer any desire for peace? Would they even KNOW what to do if “peace broke out”?
Psychologists say that children who suffer interrupted play patterns are more likely to become violent criminals. Now I’m not suggesting that the United Nations, or any of these conferences all eat graham crackers and drink juice, then lay down for nappies on their blankies, and learn to play nice… nor am I trying to trivialize the whole imbroglio, but at some point, it became easier to hate than to sit and talk and work out a solution… the fact that hate spreads like wildfire, doesn’t help. Work is… work, it takes effort, it takes patience, and it takes logic and common sense.
Yes it would be nice if we “could all get along” but if that were the case, we just wiped out the story of Cain and Abel, hence we wouldn’tve learned anything.



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Dave

posted June 18, 2007 at 11:40 am


1/ My point is that instead of blathering with each other about blathering with others we should as the boy scout motto says ‘be prepared’. We should support those who are in the fight, and stop kumbayaing. Using the phrase, ‘everything I learned I learned from Star Trek’, I sould say as Scotty did, ‘the best diplomat is a fully charged phaser’.
2/ Its very nice that cute children can play with each other and get candies from adults. Unfortunately most of us grow up and stop being cute. I say most of us since some people still are in the ‘Can (the fellow who wants to kill us) come out to play?’ phase.



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Laura Rojas

posted June 18, 2007 at 1:30 pm


I think Dave, the answer is somewhere between “Kumbaya” and a fully charged phaser. But where is the middle ground? I believe in self-defense, but the idea is like the “B” movie; “He’s a Palestinian! Can I kill him now?” also doesn’t wash. I cannot believe thre are not ANY moderate Palestinians or Iranians, or whomever the dialogue needs to include. In every culture, in every corner of the world, there are reasonable people.
As far as cute kids, I was only seeking to point out that there is extremism, no matter where we might look. And this in prevalent in every subject one would care to discuss. Many times, while the imams are haranguing, or bin Laden, as an example… I don’t see him rushing off for his seventy-two virgins, and remaining in Heaven with Allah… no he is poisoning young impressionable minds, to do his dirty work. Somewhere Kumbaya needs to meet; “I’ve got to have more power Keptin!”
I don’t know how these youth wind up so disenfranchised, and angry, but they do. The pen might be mightier than the sword but somehow they have learned how to write their poisonous pen letters with their swords.
we can’t even agree how to even approach a dialogue, yet the fact that we keep hammering at it, seems hopeful.
Shalom



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Rick Abrams

posted June 18, 2007 at 1:55 pm


Dear Ms. Rojas,
According to my Yiddishkeit upbringing, our dealing with our fellow man is a non-delegatable duty. We cannot turn it over to G-d.
You mention Cain and Abel. This is an example of the bad things that happen when G-d interfers in men’s affairs. It was G-d who criticized Cain’s ofering and then compared Cain to his brother Abel, saying “Why can’t you be as good as your brother Abel?” If G-d had restricted his comments about Cain’s offering to G-d’s pettiness over what is an appropriate offering, then Cain would not taken out his hurt feelings on his brother. Unknown to Cain was the fact that people could die, as no one had yet died in world history. We have to assume that G-d knew that Abel could die. After setting Cain against Abel, did G-d warn Cain that people can die? No! Given His history of causing trouble between people with Commonality of Blood, why would you want to seek G-d’s invovlement in human affairs?



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Dave

posted June 19, 2007 at 11:18 am


1/ There is indeed a lot of space between Kumbaya and a fully charged phaser.
On this side of the world.
2/ lots of young males + opportunity to get weapons + lack of a Prtotestant (yes, Protestant) work ethic + opportunity to get 72 virgins + hot weather = violence
No talk will change that.



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Laura Rojas

posted June 19, 2007 at 9:17 pm


DearMr. Abrams:
Yes G-d knew Cain would slay Abel, and later the taking of a life is punishable by death, but G-d did not slay the murderer. But at the same time in Psalms King David cries out “From whence cometh my salvation? My salvation comes from the Lord.” We are to be the Creator’s representatives, ans yes there are people calling for the blood of the innocent. G-d chose Moses as an intermediary, to go to the people, yet Moses took his cue from G-d, not from man.
We are taught in our faith (I am Christian) we start our day with prayer, to ask the Lord to walk with us in our conscience, and stay by us. I’m sure your faith is not much different since we spring from the same root.



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